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Steven Bernstein: Proud Member of the Pre-Computer Absorption Generation

By Published: November 20, 2006
Steven BernsteinAAJ: It's tough touring in a van. And it's always harder for bands that play instrumental music.

SB: Yeah. There are very few people who get those art center gigs. And having a name like "Sex Mob —well, my wife always says, "You did it. It's your fault. The great thing is that everyone knows the name. No one's going to forget the name "Sex Mob. But on the other hand, the art centers are just a little afraid of a band called Sex Mob. And people have told me that, because I've said so many political things onstage, they're a little afraid of that too. But I just do what I do, and I think it's paid off for me, so you have to take the good with the bad.

AAJ: Yes, and it's just too late to change the name to "The NYC Eclectic Improvisational Gentlemen.

SB: Exactly [laughing]. Every once in a while, we do something—like, they say, "we want you to do something at the school, but can we call you something else? So I say, "Yeah, we're the Love Gang. We played some high school in Vermont once, in some really progressive town like Burlington or something, and it said, "the Love Gang, also [laughing] known as S*x M*b.

AAJ: The new record is Sexotica. One great thing about Sex Mob is that the same record has never been made twice. Like your previous CD, Dime Grind Palace (Ropeadope/Atlantic, 2003), these are original tunes. But there are two aspects kind of interacting on this one. First, the record is a sort of tribute to Martin Denny, the 1950s musician who made best-selling, faux-tropical instrumental albums like Exotica. Second, the record is marked by its after-the-fact manipulation of sound from the Good and Evil production team—the tracks are chopped up, filtered, altered, distorted and sped up. First of all, why Martin Denny? Second, why the post-production work from Good and Evil?

SB: Well, Good and Evil are friends of our who run a studio. We made a couple of our early records there, and before the very first Sex Mob record came out, there was a single—"Sign o' the Times, the Prince song, with a remix by Good and Evil. It was one of their first jobs, like ten years ago. So we've all known each other for a long time. One of the guys is this guitarist; we played in the Lounge Lizards together before he went more into producing. So I'd gone by their place to pick up some tapes and hang out—they'd said, "Look, we're getting rid of all our tapes, so anyone who has tapes here should come get them. So I came by, and they said, "Hey man, we want you to hear what we're doing. We've been making these records for Thirsty Ear, and we think it would be really cool to do one with Sex Mob. So they played me their records and it sounded really cool. They played me some of their more commercial dance music—they're really into all this bhangra stuff. They thought it would be really cool to do this kind of bhangra/Sex Mob record. They said, "On the way home, stop by this little Indian cabbie stand—you can get all these bhangra records for three bucks each. So I bought some, listened to them on the way home, and said, "Cool. Let's do it.

So we set up a meeting with Peter Gordon, the guy at Thirsty Ear. And I don't think this guy has ever heard Sex Mob. He knows who we are, but I know he's never seen us live. But he knew we were a band that had toured, and won awards, and made records, and blah-blah-blah, and he's excited, because it's good for his label. Now Peter is really into the idea of a concept. All his records are concept records. That's his whole thing, and he's very upfront about it. So he says, "You know what? I don't like this concept. I can't sell it. Bhangra—it doesn't make any sense to me. So I said, "Okay, and we're just sitting around talking, throwing ideas back and forth, and he says, "Martin Denny.

Now that's very interesting, because I had never heard of Martin Denny fifteen years ago, and [legendary producer] Hal Willner, who was my first supporter, who produced the first Spanish Fly record, said to me, "I love Spanish Fly; it really reminds me of Martin Denny. I said, "Yeah, okay, great. Hal would always mention things, and I had no idea what he was talking about, so I always had a pencil when I talked with him, and I would write things down. So I go and get this Martin Denny stuff and listen to it, and I like it. It's kind of cool, I like the vibe, and I know what he means; it's a kind of warm sound, and in Spanish Fly we used to a lot of these kinds of rhythms with our instruments, stuff like that. So, being a collector, I eventually ended up with every Martin Denny record.

So Peter says, "Martin Denny, and I just look at him and say, "Sexotica. Now we have to make the record, because we've got the title! Sexotica. So now the guys in my band are so busy that we couldn't find a weekend to do it for nine months. And Peter is so used to jazz musicians who need the thousand dollars they're going to make. I don't even think I've paid Tony or Kenny yet—they're so busy, they're out making tons with all the shit they do. So I think Peter was shocked.

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